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SUBJECTS — World/Ancient Greece, Egypt; Religions (Paganism, Christianity, Judaism);

Age: 13+; MPAA Rating -- R for some violence; Drama; 1994, 142 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.

Description: Andy, an accountant, has been unjustly convicted of murdering his wife and faces a life sentence in prison. He meets Red, another life term prisoner, who is periodically rejected by the parole board in his efforts to be freed from the murder he committed decades ago. Red is the prison smuggler. He supplies Andy with posters of Hollywood women and stones that can be carved into chess pieces. Andy is used by the corrupt prison warden to launder money, but once it is evident that Andy is innocent of his crime the warden resorts to murder to keep Andy in prison cooking the books. Andy then determines to escape.

Rationale for Using the Movie: Considered one of the best American films, Shawshank Redemption engages viewers with flawless pacing and characterization and tells a story with clear allegorical value, thus encouraging students to focus sharply on idea rather than action.

Objectives/Student Outcomes Using this Learning Guide: Through assignments and projects at the end of the film, students can sharpen their research and writing skills while investigating important issues facing Americans as individuals and the society as a whole.

Possible Problems: Moderate. There are several disturbing scenes of violence and degradation.



Rationale and Objectives
Possible Problems
Parenting Points

Using the Movie in Class:
      Introduction to the Movie
      Discussion Questions


Helpful Background

Additional Discussion Questions:
      Subjects (Curriculum Topics)
      Social-Emotional Learning
      Moral-Ethical Emphasis
            (Character Counts)

Other Sections:
      CCSS Anchor Standards
      Selected Awards & Cast

MOVIE WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students' minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project and Movies as Literature Homework Project.

Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM's guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.

Introduction to the Movie and Closing:

Before showing the movie, Shawshank Redemption Unit Plan by Suzanne A. McGee .This is a five day lesson plan for 50 minute 12th grade ELA classes based on New York ELA standards. The focus is to show that a film is a literary work and have students analyze it using literary analysis for irony, theme, conflict, foreshadowing, juxtaposition, plot, metaphor, mood/tone, setting, characterization, symbolism/allegory, climax.

12th Grade Lesson Plan from English On-line

Film Study Unit for The Shawshank Redemption by Shannon McGloughlin

At the end of the movie, tell the class that the conviction of innocent people is still a serious problem in the United States. For example, in 2000 the governor of Illinois issued a moratorium on death sentences in his state because more than 13 people who had been convicted and sentenced to death were later found to be innocent and at least one innocent man had been executed.


Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1. Andy is tried and convicted of a crime he almost committed. He intended to shoot someone as he sat drinking in his car outside of what was to become a crime scene. What irony can be seen in this circumstance? Suggested Response: Students may need to be told the definition of "situational Irony," which is disparity between what happened and what was intended. The irony in the scene in question occurs because Andy intends to murder his wife and her lover but does not, yet is convicted and sent to prison for the crime as if he had killed them. 2. What irony lies in the parole board hearings that Red faces through his years in prison? Suggested Response: Students should note that when Red appeared remorseful and humble in the hearings and said the things the board wanted to hear, he was denied parole. In his last hearing, Red appeared bored and arrogant; he told the truth and said the board could just go ahead and do whatever it wanted. Red was paroled at the last hearing. 3. The warden's corruption both helped and hurt Andy. What examples can you find to prove this assertion? Suggested Response: The warden's corruption provided Andy with work that helped restore his sense of self; it enabled him to build a library; it saved him from further attack by "The Sisters." The corruption hurt Andy when the warden had Tommy killed and when he stood in the way of Andy being proven innocent. 1.   The dissenting juror may have suspected that the young man actually did kill his father. Why does he still argue that the young man should be acquitted of the charges? Suggested Response: The dissenting juror understands that a conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt and he pursues his doubts relentlessly yet patiently and with respect for the other juror's opinions.

2.   What are some of the policy reasons underlying the requirement that before a person can be convicted of a crime, every member of a jury vote for conviction? Suggested Response: Students will give answers based on the movie, referring to the jurors who wanted to go to the ball game or who were prejudiced for some reason against the defendant. Guide the discussion to the following points: the state is powerful and has many resources and because often individuals accused of a crime have few ways to protect themselves, the state is held to a high burden when it tries to fine or imprison someone. This is the same reason why the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. These requirements result in some guilty people going free, but it is better for that to happen than to wrongfully convict, fine, or imprison even one person who is innocent. Experience shows that even with the protections of due process, some innocent people are convicted or are forced into plea bargains. The rates of erroneous convictions would soar if the government was not required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to every one of the jurors hearing the case.

3.  What is "due process of law" and why is it important? Suggested Response: Even students who have not formally studied the concept of due process should have an intuitive understanding of the concept. Guide the discussion to the concepts that follow.

Due process:
  • is a set of procedures designed to make sure that people are treated fairly by the government;
  • is based on the idea that a person cannot be deprived of life, liberty or property without appropriate legal procedures and safeguards;
  • includes, at least, the right to notice, an opportunity to be heard, and protection from an unreasonable or capricious result;
  • is a flexible concept and requires different procedures in different situations; for example, the due process requirements for a criminal case are more stringent than due process requirements for a civil case because a criminal conviction carries potential incarceration, a heavier punishment than mere loss of money; and
  • requires more protections in a court case than in an administrative proceeding; in an administrative hearing the decision must be reasonable but it doesn't have to meet the standards of beyond a reasonable doubt or even a preponderance of the evidence.

Due process is more than just important. It is essential in a government of ordered liberty because it is important to individuals that when government makes a decision affecting them, that the decision be made fairly. If the government takes action without due process, it will lose the loyalty of its citizens.

4.   What would you think about due process if a member of your family was killed and the killer was acquitted because the prosecutor made mistakes and did not prove his case? Suggested Response: Obviously, one would be angry and upset. A good answer will recognize that the system of justice is not perfect and that sometimes we don't get perfect justice. Turn the question, how would they feel if their relative or they themselves were accused of a crime they did not commit and then they were convicted and had to go to jail?

For seven additional discussion questions, click here.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.   Use Internet research skills to write a formal report on the Innocence Project. Include in your report where and when the Project began and how it became a program now operating all over the nation. Cite specific cases, besides general statistics, to illustrate the goals of the Project. Be sure to use multiple sources and to employ MLA format in attributing information properly. Conclude your essay with your opinion about the justice system.

2.    When Red heads off to join his friend after his release from prison, in voiceover he comments that it is said that the Pacific Ocean has no memory. What is the significance of this line in terms of what the men have been through, what they are now doing and how their futures may unfold? Write your essay informally. Ponder the idea and, as if the director of the film wants to add another scene and has chosen you to write it, conclude with a narrative glimpse of what may be going on with these two men sometime in the future.

3.    Some have suggested that the term "redemption" does not really fit into the title, given the events in the story. Others disagree. Write an opinion essay on the concept of redemption as it is shown in the film or, contrariwise, you may argue in favor of another word kkthat better signifies the film's theme. Use logic and persuasion in your essay.

See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

Common Core State Standards that can be Served by this Learning Guide
(Anchor Standards only)

Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.") CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 - 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.


This film is one of a triumvirate which help students understand due process. The other two are The Ox-Bow Incident and Stand and Deliver. See also Plea Bargaining in the American Justice System, Using a Clip from the film American Violet.

See TWM's Short Essay on Due Process in the Trial of Criminal Cases.

BUILDING VOCABULARY: "burden of proof," "due process of law," "presumption of innocence," "circumstantial evidence," "beyond a reasonable doubt."

Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Parenting Points: Watch the movie with your child and assure your child that situations have occurred when one juror has turned a jury around.

Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.


Discussion Questions:

After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.

1.   ** Suggested Response: **

2.   ** Suggested Response: **.

3.   ** Suggested Response: **.

4.   ** Suggested Response: ***

For seven additional discussion questions, click here.


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1.   Research the evolution of the Innocence Project and present the information to the class as an example of how often trials can result in wrongful conviction. Use a Power Point format and include your sources of information.



See also Additional Assignments for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.



Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

Give us your feedback! Was the Guide helpful? If so, which sections were most helpful? Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Email us!

This Learning Guide written by James Frieden and Deborah Elliott Mary RedClay and was published on December 26, 2013.

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